Another eager reader stopped me on the way into the Green Aberdeen Chautauqua Saturday and asked me why Governor Kristi Noem is so heck-bent on keeping industrial hemp out of South Dakota. The best logical explanation I’ve been able to come up with is that she’s stalling to maximize First Hubby Bryon’s opportunity to sell federally subsidized crop insurance to the first hemp farmers… or maybe just to keep corn and soybean farmers from rushing to a different cash crop that her husband isn’t ready to insure.
That logic breaks down, because Noem is still vociferously opposing the now insurable crop, to an almost irrational extreme, out of proportion with what we hear from any other state, in a way that only hurts her brand and may actually deter hemp-pioneers from doing business with Noem Insurance, Inc., even if Kristi would let Bryon offer hemp policies.
A few more crop insurance commissions don’t seem enough to explain Governor Noem’s deliberate ignoring of fact, economic opportunity, and personal political risk. Her opposition to harmless industrial hemp feels more like a line drawn for personal reasons, a grudge arising from personal injury or loss, now so woven into a worldview that it is impervious to reconsideration, reasoned discussion, or negotiation.
Because amateur psychology is no shakier than any other approach to deciphering Noem’s hempophobia, let’s study this comment made by Governor Noem last May at a drug court graduation in Pierre:
Officials with the Sixth Circuit DUI/Drug Court celebrated the 70th person to graduate from the program Wednesday. The keynote speaker for the event was Governor Kristi Noem, who as attending her first drug court graduation…
“But another reason that today is pretty special for me is that I have a family that has been personally touched by addiction as well. My mother’s side of the family is filled with alcoholics. I also grew up with a foster brother who suffered quite a bit of trauma as a child and dealt with addiction his whole life and still until the day he died; which was the result of addiction, greatly impacted our family. We watched his struggles. We worked hard to get him help and treatment and when I served here in the Legislature was when we first started debating and talking about drug courts and different types of courts that would approach treatment differently than what was previously available” [Zach Nelson, “6th Circuit DUI/Drug Court Graduates 70th Participant,” KCCR, 2019.05.08].
Addiction runs in Noem’s family. Noem lost a family member to addiction. That could be all the “reason” she needs to slam the door on any legislation with even the faintest whiff of an addictive drug. Never mind that research suggests that hemp isn’t a drug at all, that we can tell the difference between hemp and smoking-marijuana, and that some research indicates marijuana is less addictive than alcohol, the sale and transportation of which Governor Noem has signed bills to expand. People who lose loved ones don’t always come to the table looking for reason and compromise. If the people who suffered a loss can pin the face of the cause of that loss on your issue, they’ll plug their ears, dig in their heels, and whale on you the way they wish they could whale on whatever or whoever actually took their loved ones away.
And if that’s the case, there’s no convincing Kristi Noem that industrial hemp is good for South Dakota. There’s just overriding her veto.